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The Deadly Dinner Party

The Deadly Dinner Party: and Other Medical Detective Stories

Jonathan A. Edlow
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    The Deadly Dinner Party
    Book Description:

    Picking up where Berton Roueché'sThe Medical Detectivesleft off,The Deadly Dinner Partypresents fifteen edge-of-your-seat, real-life medical detective stories written by a practicing physician. Award-winning author Jonathan Edlow, M.D., shows the doctor as detective and the epidemiologist as elite sleuth in stories that are as gripping as the best thrillers.

    In these stories a notorious stomach bug turns a suburban dinner party into a disaster that almost claims its host; a diminutive woman routinely eats more than her football-playing boyfriend but continually loses weight; a young executive is diagnosed with lung cancer, yet the tumors seem to wax and wane inexplicably. Written for the lay person who wishes to better grasp how doctors decipher the myriad clues and puzzling symptoms they often encounter, each story presents a very different case where doctors must work to find the accurate diagnosis before it is too late. Edlow uses his unique ability to relate complex medical concepts in a writing style that is clear, engaging and easily understandable. The resulting stories both entertain us and teach us much about medicine, its history and the subtle interactions among pathogens, humans, and the environment.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-15499-3
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    • 1 The Deadly Dinner Party
      (pp. 3-17)

      The get-together began as an afterthought, recalls Pam Stogess, a forty-three-year-old city legislator from Kingston, New York, a town nestled between Catskill State Park and the Hudson River. “My husband, my daughter, and I were planning to go out for Mexican food. I asked our friend Steve Gelson to join us, but he invited us to his house to eat. Steve is a marvelous chef and had hosted a party the night before and had plenty of food left over. He said, ‘nothing formal, don’t get dressed up, just come over.’ My husband and daughter were set on Mexican, but...

    • 2 Everywhere That Mary Went
      (pp. 18-33)

      Roy Harvey, a postal clerk from Summerton, New York, married Rita Osborn, both in their early forties, on June 3, 1989 (their names and the town’s name are fictional). Harvey, who doubles as an assistant chief of the local fire department, knew that the New York State Association of Fire Chiefs’ convention was going to be held June 11–14, in the Catskills, and he had planned to attend. With a busy work schedule, finding time for their honeymoon was difficult, but the Catskill Mountains are beautiful that time of year. “So we figured we’d make that our honeymoon too,”...

    • 3 The Baby and the Bathwater
      (pp. 34-45)

      It began on June 15, 1988, as one of the most routine cases in a pediatrician’s practice. After all, there are few problems more common than a toddler with diarrhea.

      At first, fourteen-month-old Katie Wolz of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, developed her diarrhea without any other symptoms, not even a fever—just diarrhea. Her mother, Kathleen Wolz, an energetic thirty-year-old lawyer, reacted the same way most moms would. “I thought it was one of those viruses that kids are always getting,” she recalls. “She didn’t look sick, so I put her on liquids and figured it would pass.” But a few...

    • 4 Rubbed the Wrong Way
      (pp. 46-57)

      “We had recently returned from California when it all started,” says Josephine Limone, thinking back to June 1992, when she got sick. “My husband Alfonso is a dentist, and we had just gone to a dental convention in Palm Springs. Several weeks after we returned, I remember that my underarms got very sore, first the left side I think and then the right. It was especially sore when I moved my arms. I took the subway to work and when I reached up to grab the handrail on the train, it really hurt.”

      Limone, an attractive woman with shoulder-length dark...

    • 5 The Forbidden Fruit
      (pp. 58-72)

      It began as innocently as a thousand other cases. It could have happened anywhere, and it might have involved any family. So on the evening of Sunday, November 10, 1991, Peter and Michele Burdick were not particularly alarmed when their only child, Emily—a petite blonde, not quite four years old at the time—began having abdominal cramps and diarrhea. Such symptoms are a normal part of growing up, and nearly every child at some point will have them. When Michele began to feel some cramps too, she figured that it was just something that they had both eaten.



    • 6 Two Ticks from Jersey
      (pp. 75-87)

      “When I first saw her, she was nontoxic looking, did not have a fever and was very interactive, but she couldn’t speak properly; the words were slurred,” recalls Dr. Fred Henretig, a pediatric emergency physician and toxicologist at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). His patient was Annie (as I’ll call her), a five-year-old girl who had been transferred to the emergency department at CHOP for evaluation of a baffling and frightening constellation of symptoms. Little Annie had been a perfectly normal and healthy child until the day before her visit with Dr. Henretig in May 2003.

      After day care that...

    • 7 An Airtight Case
      (pp. 88-101)

      “I got sick the first time in December,” recalls Philip Bradford (as I’ll call him). “At first I thought it was just the flu—the usual cough, fevers, chest pain, just feeling lousy, but it lasted a few weeks. When it didn’t clear up, I saw my doctor, who prescribed first erythromycin and then a tetracycline-type drug. Finally, he ordered a chest x-ray, which showed pneumonia. A month later, there was still no improvement, so he hospitalized me and I had a whole array of tests.”

      These included skin tests for tuberculosis, sputum cultures for more conventional bacteria, a biopsy...

    • 8 Monday Morning Fever
      (pp. 102-115)

      Early one afternoon at work, chemical engineer George Melville broke into a sweat, developed pains in his chest, and felt profoundly weak, especially in his thighs. He took himself at once to the emergency room at Lawrence General Hospital in northeastern Massachusetts. A forty-two-year-old male smoker with chest discomfort triggered the usual concern for patient and doctor alike—could this be a heart attack? The usual tests that were available in 1973 were performed. His electrocardiogram (EKG), though strictly speaking abnormal, did not show the clear-cut changes usually found after a heart attack. Blood tests were done. These enzyme tests,...

    • 9 The Case of the Wide-Eyed Boy
      (pp. 116-128)

      Although Gary Setnik had been a specialist in emergency medicine for fifteen years, he’s still never sure what to expect. On any given day at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he may see a child with the sniffles, a teenager with a seizure, a grandmother with pneumonia, or an executive in cardiac arrest. As time passes, the details of many of those cases blur into one another.

      But doctors will recall the smallest details of some cases even years later.

      “In spite of the fact that you see thousands of patients, there are a very few cases that stand...


    • 10 A Study in Scarlet
      (pp. 131-143)

      On Saturday, October 5, 1985, Dr. Bernard Guyer, a pediatrician and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health, sat having lunch at an inn in New Hampshire. He felt about as relaxed as could be. He was celebrating his forty-third birthday and enjoying the crisp air at a luxurious world-class resort nestled between the White Mountains and the Connecticut River. Just after noon, along with his wife and his mother, Guyer sat down for lunch. Joining them at the table were close friends: Dr. Mary Wilson and her husband, Dr. Harvey Fineberg, and Dr. Phil Stubblefield and his wife,...

    • 11 The Case of the Overly Hot Honeymoon
      (pp. 144-157)

      Linda Corsetti, a student at Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, was getting ready for a semester abroad. She had so much to do that she put off the required blood tests until the week before she was supposed to leave for Rome. After all, she was in perfect health.

      “I didn’t think there’d be any problem,” she recalls. “I went to a lab and had the blood work done. A day later they called me up and said there was a problem, probably an error in recording the results, but to be safe, they asked me to return to have...

    • 12 Feeling His Oats
      (pp. 158-169)

      By midmorning on Tuesday, December 13, 1988, Henry Schachte of Weston, Connecticut, knew something was dreadfully wrong. That was when the abdominal pain began. “It felt like my stomach was being inflated with air,” recalls the seventy-six-year-old retired advertising executive. As the day wore on, the pain intensified, and by 9 PM, Schachte knew he needed help. He threw on some pajamas and drove himself to Norwalk Hospital.

      There, in the emergency department, Schachte was examined by Dr. Edward Tracey, the surgeon who had operated on him for diverticulitis eight years earlier, removing part of his colon. He had mild...

    • 13 The Case of the Unhealthy Health Food
      (pp. 170-183)

      Joanne Young was the kind of person who didn’t just worry about her health; she did something about it. In fact, the forty-eight-year-old Massachusetts woman had taken exceptionally good care of herself for years, jogging five miles daily, eating a nutritious diet, abstaining from smoking, and limiting her alcohol intake to rare social occasions.

      So when her feet became swollen during a vacation to Hawaii in April 1981, she dismissed it as nothing more than simple water retention. “I figured it was due to the flying or whatever, but after I returned home, my legs were still quite swollen and...

    • 14 Little Luisa’s Blinding Headache
      (pp. 184-196)

      It all started as a perfectly routine case. Luisa Alvarez-Ruiz (as I’ll call her) was a five-year-old girl whose family brought her to the emergency department because of a headache. Among the long list of symptoms that bring patients to a doctor’s attention, headache is one of the most common. So the doctors began asking their usual questions and taking their normal measurements. However, they did not find anything particularly worrisome in the responses and metrics, and her physical examination seemed to be normal. But for some reason, in part because Luisa’s headaches had been present for a few months,...

    • 15 Too Much of a Good Thing
      (pp. 197-210)

      Virginia Palazzo, an internist who lives in Belmont, Massachusetts, wasn’t the kind of mother who worried over every little thing. But she became very concerned in the spring of 1991 when her eighteen-month-old daughter, Christa, suddenly lost her appetite. The odd thing was that, at the same time, she seemed to be drinking all the fluids she could get. Palazzo also noticed that her daughter wasn’t gaining any weight. The situation was even more disturbing when the little girl’s pediatrician could not find anything wrong.

      “We couldn’t figure it out. As an afterthought, the pediatrician checked her blood calcium level.”...

  7. Sources
    (pp. 211-236)
  8. Index
    (pp. 237-245)